Pearl Harbor Memorial Day commemorates a dark moment in our history

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On December 7, 1941, the Imperial Navy of Japan attacked the U.S. Naval Base at Pearl Harbor at 7:48 a.m. Hawaii time. The first wave of attacks included the torpedo bombers, which took full advantage of the surprise attack and went after the unprepared battleships on “Battleship Row.”

The attack, as seen from a Japanese plane
The attack, as seen from a Japanese plane

Between the two waves of Japanese warplanes — 353 in all — they sunk or damaged eight battleships (Arizona, Oklahoma, West Virginia, California, Nevada, Pennsylvania, Tennessee and the Maryland), plus the Utah target and training ship, three cruisers (Helena, Raleigh and Honolulu), three destroyers (Cassin, Downes and Shaw), the minelayer Oglala, the repair ship Vestal and the seaplane tender, the Curtiss.

Of the 402 U.S. aircraft in Hawaii, 188 were destroyed and 159 damaged.

The number of Americans killed was 2, 403 sailors, soldiers, marines and civilians. Another 1,178 were wounded. Until that time — and for the next 60 years — it was the deadliest attack on U.S. soil in our history. At the time Hawaii was a territory and wouldn’t become a state until 1959, nearly 18 years after the attack.

The attack was supposed to take place 30 minutes after a declaration of war was delivered to the U.S. State Department, but because the transcription of the 14-part, coded message took so long for the Japanese ambassador to translate, it didn’t get to the Secretary of State Cordell Hull until hours after the attack was concluded. In fact, none of Japan’s U.S. delegation knew of the attack, for security reasons.

The U.S.S. Arizona (BB-39) burning after the attack on December 7, 1941
The U.S.S. Arizona (BB-39) burning after the attack on December 7, 1941

In a twist, American intelligence had decoded most of the message before the attack occurred, which gave the military the knowledge Japan was going to attack, they just didn’t know when or where.

Hawaii wasn’t the only U.S. territory attacked; The Philippines, Wake and Guam were also attacked as well as British territories in Malaysia, Singapore and Hong Kong.

Roughly 2,000 Pearl Harbor survivors are still alive and are well into their 90s and some over the century mark. Sixty thousand members of the military at Pearl Harbor that day survived, but as the years have gone by their numbers of dwindled. Some died fighting in World War II, others in Korea. Many Americans have relatives who fought in World War II; a month after this attack, my father enlisted in the U.S. Navy, first going to war against Germany and Italy in the Mediterranean Sea and North Africa aboard the battleship U.S.S. Texas (BB-35), and then in the Pacific, aboard the destroyer escort U.S.S. Wyman (DE-38).

As the living history of World War II and the attack on Pearl Harbor fades, it’s important to remember this moment in our history. The next day President Franklin D. Roosevelt asked Congress for a declaration of war against Japan and less than an hour later they delivered it.

Car P.J. Forkes Enlisted in the U.S. Navy in January, 1942. He is pictured in Hawaii, some time in 1944 (Tim Forkes)
Car P.J. Forkes Enlisted in the U.S. Navy in January, 1942. He is pictured in Hawaii,
some time in 1944
(Tim Forkes)

Below is the entire text of President Roosevelt’s speech asking Congress to declare war against Japan.

Yesterday, December 7th, 1941 — a date which will live in infamy — the United States of America was suddenly and deliberately attacked by naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan.

The United States was at peace with that nation and, at the solicitation of Japan, was still in conversation with its government and its emperor looking toward the maintenance of peace in the Pacific.

Indeed, one hour after Japanese air squadrons had commenced bombing in the American island of Oahu, the Japanese ambassador to the United States and his colleague delivered to our Secretary of State a formal reply to a recent American message. And while this reply stated that it seemed useless to continue the existing diplomatic negotiations, it contained no threat or hint of war or of armed attack.1

It will be recorded that the distance of Hawaii from Japan makes it obvious that the attack was deliberately planned many days or even weeks ago. During the intervening time, the Japanese government has deliberately sought to deceive the United States by false statements and expressions of hope for continued peace.

The attack yesterday on the Hawaiian Islands has caused severe damage to American naval and military forces. I regret to tell you that very many American lives have been lost. In addition, American ships have been reported torpedoed on the high seas between San Francisco and Honolulu.

The U.S.S. Wisconsin (BB-64) tied up next to the damaged U.S.S. Oklahoma (BB-37), 1943
The U.S.S. Wisconsin (BB-64) tied up next to the damaged U.S.S. Oklahoma (BB-37), 1943

Yesterday, the Japanese government also launched an attack against Malaya.

Last night, Japanese forces attacked Hong Kong.

Last night, Japanese forces attacked Guam.

Last night, Japanese forces attacked the Philippine Islands.

Last night, the Japanese attacked Wake Island.

And this morning, the Japanese attacked Midway Island.

Japan has, therefore, undertaken a surprise offensive extending throughout the Pacific area. The facts of yesterday and today speak for themselves. The people of the United States have already formed their opinions and well understand the implications to the very life and safety of our nation.

As Commander in Chief of the Army and Navy, I have directed that all measures be taken for our defense. But always will our whole nation remember the character of the onslaught against us.

No matter how long it may take us to overcome this premeditated invasion, the American people in their righteous might will win through to absolute victory.

The U.S.S. Arizona Memorial with the U.S.S. Missouri (BB-63) Museum at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii
The U.S.S. Arizona Memorial with the U.S.S. Missouri (BB-63) Museum at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii

I believe that I interpret the will of the Congress and of the people when I assert that we will not only defend ourselves to the uttermost, but will make it very certain that this form of treachery shall never again endanger us.

Hostilities exist. There is no blinking at the fact that our people, our territory, and our interests are in grave danger.

With confidence in our armed forces, with the unbounding determination of our people, we will gain the inevitable triumph — so help us God.

I ask that the Congress declare that since the unprovoked and dastardly attack by Japan on Sunday, December 7th, 1941, a state of war has existed between the United States and the Japanese empire.

Photos from Wikipedia unless otherwise noted